What is Balint’s Syndrome?
Balint’s syndrome is an uncommon brain disorder characterized by a group of three distinct visual symptoms. The syndrome is usually caused by damage to the parietal lobes, the parts of the brain responsible for sensory perception. In some cases, damage to the occipital lobes may also be present.
Symptoms of Balint’s Syndrome
Balint’s syndrome has three distinct symptoms, each of them related to the processing of visual input:
- Optic ataxia. This condition causes problems with the ability to accurately reach for an object even when the item can be clearly seen. People with optic ataxia may have difficulty shaping their hand(s) to reach for an object and may be unable to correct their movements after they’ve reached incorrectly.
- Oculomotor apraxia. This condition is an inability to move one’s eyes voluntarily toward an object.
- Simultanagnosia. This condition is an inability to distinguish the wholeness of an object or a scene. Instead, a person with simultanagnosia sees everything as a collection of separate or unrelated parts.
All three of these symptoms must be present for a diagnosis of Balint’s syndrome.
What Causes Balint’s Syndrome?
Balint’s syndrome is caused by an injury, medical event, or underlying disorder that causes damage to the brain’s parietal lobes. Symptoms arise when brain damage interferes with the normal processing of visual input or stimuli.
Common causes of Balint’s syndrome include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Oxygen deprivation
- Brain tumors
- Brain infections
- Exposure to toxins such as carbon monoxide
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Other types of progressive dementia
Is Balint’s Syndrome Hereditary?
Because Balint’s syndrome is caused by an injury, an underlying disorder, or brain damage from an external event, it is not directly inherited. However, some diseases that may underlie Balint’s syndrome, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can have an inherited component. In these cases, the inherited risk for developing agnosia is tied to the risk of developing the underlying condition.
How Is Balint’s Syndrome Detected?
The early signs of Balint’s syndrome may go unnoticed or be dismissed as vision problems. However, an exam by an ophthalmologist will show no problems with the eyes themselves. In addition, the syndrome is uncommon, and many medical practitioners may be unfamiliar with its symptoms. Therefore, the risk of misdiagnosis is high.
How Is Balint’s Syndrome Diagnosed?
A doctor may diagnose Balint’s syndrome if all three symptoms are present and coincide with underlying brain damage or injury. The diagnostic process may include:
- Physical exams and neurological exams to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms
- Ophthalmological exams to rule out disorders of the eyes that may cause the symptoms
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) to look for brain damage in the parietal or occipital lobes that can cause Balint’s syndrome.
PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.
How Is Balint’s Syndrome Treated?
No treatment directly reverses Balint’s syndrome’s effects, but the treatment of the underlying cause, if effective, may improve the symptoms. The appropriate treatment depends on the underlying condition, but possible options include:
- Antibiotics to treat brain infections
- Surgery to relieve brain abscesses
- Surgery to remove brain tumors
- Radiation to reduce brain tumors
Therapies such as speech therapy or occupational therapy may help the patient find ways to cope with the syndrome’s symptoms.
How Does Balint’s Syndrome Progress?
Balint’s syndrome can be debilitating, but the syndrome itself is not life-threatening. Rehabilitation may help a person with the disorder learn to cope and gain the ability to live independently. The prospects of a good long-term outcome are better when the syndrome is caused by a stroke or a treatable brain infection than when it’s caused by degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
How Is Balint’s Syndrome Prevented?
There is no known way to prevent Balint’s syndrome after the disorder-causing brain damage occurs. Steps taken to reduce the risk of head injuries, stroke, or any other potential cause are the only way to reduce the risk of the condition.
Balint’s Syndrome Caregiver Tips
- Be patient and understanding. Remember that Balint’s syndrome is caused by underlying brain damage, and your loved one can’t simply stop being confused by trying harder.
- Use alternative communication methods. Help your loved one to use other senses to compensate for their visual disabilities.
- Make sure your loved one understands you. Explain things simply and use gestures to support the words you use. Repeat yourself if necessary, and double-check to verify that you’re being understood.
Balint’s Syndrome Brain Science
The two parietal lobes (left and right) perform two essential sensory functions. The first function is to process sensory stimuli and form the input into coherent perception. The second function is to build sensory input into the perception of a larger space around us. Therefore, damage to the lobes can cause problems with understanding sensory stimuli and difficulty comprehending spatial relationships.
Damage to specific parts of the parietal lobes can cause distinct symptoms. For example, damage to the left parietal lobe can cause problems with visual perception and language. Damage to the right parietal lobe may cause people to ignore parts of their body or deny their disabilities. Balint’s syndrome results when both parietal lobes are damaged, leading to the disorder’s unique combination of visual and motor symptoms.
Balint’s Syndrome Research
Title: Cerebello-Spinal tDCS as Rehabilitative Intervention in Neurodegenerative Ataxia (SCA02)
Principal investigator: Barbara Borroni, MD
Azienda Ospedaliera Spedali Civili
Neurodegenerative cerebellar ataxias represent a group of disabling disorders that currently lack effective therapies. Cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive technique, which has been demonstrated to modulate cerebellar excitability and improve symptoms in patients with cerebellar ataxias. In this randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled study followed by an open-label phase, the investigators will evaluate whether a repetition of two-week treatment with cerebellar anodal tDCS and spinal cathodal tDCS, after a three months interval, may further outlast clinical improvement in patients with neurodegenerative cerebellar ataxia and can modulate cerebello-motor connectivity, at the short and long term.
Neurodegenerative cerebellar ataxias represent a heterogeneous group of disabling disorders in which progressive ataxia of gait, limb dysmetria, oculomotor deficits, dysarthria, and kinetic tremor are the prominent clinical manifestations. Both the hereditary and sporadic forms usually present in young adulthood and are characterized by atrophy of cerebellar or brainstem structures. Currently, cerebellar ataxia lacks effective disease-modifying therapies.
Cerebellar transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive technique, which has been demonstrated to modulate cerebellar excitability and improve symptoms in patients with cerebellar ataxias. The present randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled study followed by an open-label phase will investigate a repetition of two-week treatment with cerebellar anodal tDCS and spinal cathodal tDCS, after a three months interval, may further outlast clinical improvement in patients with neurodegenerative cerebellar ataxia and can modulate cerebello-motor connectivity, at the short and long term. In addition, the investigators will evaluate if tDCS intervention might improve cerebellar cognitive-affective syndrome in patients with ataxia.
Title: Rare Disease Patient Registry & Natural History Study – Coordination of Rare Diseases at Sanford (CoRDS)
Sioux Falls, SD
CoRDS, or the Coordination of Rare Diseases at Sanford, is based at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It provides researchers with a centralized, international patient registry for all rare diseases. This program allows patients and researchers to connect as efficiently as possible to help advance treatments and cures for rare diseases. The CoRDS team works with patient advocacy groups, individuals, and researchers to assist in advancing research in over 7,000 rare diseases. The registry is free for patients to enroll and researchers to access. Visit sanfordresearch.org/CoRDS to enroll.
CoRDS collects contact, sociodemographic and health information about participants. This information is entered into CoRDS and linked to a unique coded identifier. Below are some examples of information requested on the Questionnaire that will be entered into CoRDS:
- Contact information: Name, Mailing Address, Phone Number, Email Address
- Sociodemographic information: Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Sex, Gender, Ethnicity
- Health information: Family History, Information related to Diagnosis
De-identified information in CoRDS will be made available to researchers if they have obtained approval for their research project from (1) the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the researcher’s institution and (2) a panel of experts.
A subset of de-identified information collected from each profile may be shared with certain other databases. This is done to help improve understanding of rare diseases, avoid duplication of efforts, and collaborate with existing research efforts with organizations dedicated to rare diseases.
Participants may elect to share their information with patient advocacy groups (PAGs) representing individuals with rare or uncommon diseases who have partnered with CoRDS. The PAG will sign an agreement stating that they will not use the information for research purposes. CoRDS personnel will not be held responsible for the use of information by the PAG.
The CoRDS Registry will not be paid by Researchers, Other Patient Registries, or Patient Advocacy Groups (PAGs) for access to information in CoRDS.
If a parent/LAR consents on behalf of a minor, CoRDS will contact the participant when they reach 18 to obtain consent. If this consent is not obtained in a timely manner, the participant will be withdrawn from CoRDS.
CoRDS contacts participants annually to confirm continued interest in CoRDS and request that participants update the information they have provided.